ATLANTA--Only hours after losing to Governor Michael S. Dukakis, supporters of the Rev. Jesse Jackson were meeting, planning for the future.
Members of the Rainbow Coalition which helped Jackson capture seven million primary votes, pledged to continue fighting for their agenda yesterday. Hundreds of Jackson supporters gathered yesterday to discuss "Building the Rainbow After Atlanta."
Some Jackson supporters are already sporting "Jackson 1992" buttons, and they made it clear that their leader will be around next time to challenge the conscience of the party. Most members of the Rainbow Coalition said they will back Dukakis in November, if only to stop George Bush from winning the White House. "We're for removing the Reagan cancer and the only scalpel we have at our disposal is the Democratic nominee," said Rainbow Coalition director Jack O'Dell.
O'Dell, like many other Jackson supporters, did not say his support for Dukakis would be enthusiastic. "Why do we have to be enthusiastic? We're going to work for [Dukakis]. We're going to be pressing for what the Democratic voters voted for: an end to the arms race" and other Jackson themes.
Though still predominantly a Black group, it was clear that the coalition formed by Jackson is expanding: Latinos and American Indians, union workers and homosexuals are all rallying around the civil rights leader from Chicago.
And Tuesday night, when Jackson delivered what may become a legendary address to the convention, may have been the moment when that coalition made itself known and showed hints of becoming ever broader.
In perhaps the most moving moment of the convention, Jackson spoke of his illegitimate birth to a teenage girl, of his childhood spent in poverty, of Thanksgiving Days spent waiting for the white folks' leftovers.
"Wherever you are tonight you can make it," Jackson said. "Hold your head high, stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don't surrender. Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint."
Jackson spoke of hope, and as he delivered his message, tears came to the eyes of many in the convention hall.
Dukakis had won. Defeat on the convention floor was inevitable. But Jackson made clear his loyalty to the party, his commitment to unity. "In 1980 rancor in the spring and summer led to Reagan in the fall. When we divide, we cannot win. We must find common ground as a basis for survival and development and change and growth."
And it was on behalf of Jackson that California Assemblyman Willie Brown, a top Jackson campaign official moved to suspend the rules and nominate Dukakis by acclamation.
But Jackson made it clear that he intends to keep on fighting for his liberal agenda. He urged his fellow Democrats to remember the poor, the sick, the homeless and all people who suffer. "I challenge you tonight, my friends, let's be bigger and better as a nation and as a party."
He concluded by telling his followers: "You must not surrender. You may or may not get there, but just know that you're qualified and you hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. America will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive."
Yesterday, many Jackson supporters sported "Keep Hope Alive Buttons" while others wore caps reading "Never surrender."
Lee Perry '64, a press assistant with Jackson's national office, said that the "progressive" movement is reaching out to poor whites. "A lot of white people experience the economic violence that Rev. Jackson decries," Perry said. In the Washington, D.C. office, she's received calls from once-skeptical whites who have been won over by Jackson's views on social progress. "I'm from Loredo, Texas and I'm white, but he tells the truth and I'm voting for him," one caller said.
Jesse Luke wasn't at the convention: he was working at Emory University, cleaning up after the folks from CBS who had rented out the dorms. He said he'd continue to back Jackson because he cares about the needy. "He's not just for the poor Blacks, but for poor whites," he said.
Jackson Patman, another Jackson supporter says he's "going all the way" with Jackson if he sticks to his principles. "If he runs, I'll be right there."